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Wednesday, 19 Oct 2016 17:29 EATjonyando@kenyafreepress.com
The cabinet secretary for devolution Mwangi Kiunjuri today announced the suspension of Mr Mohamed Yusuf Fazul as director of the NGO Coordination Board pending investigations into the official's academic qualifications. The minister also dissolved the management board.
The minister's drastic actions were triggered by a sensational corruption claim against his person by a civil society operative suspected to have close links with Mr Fazul. Mr Stephen Cheboi claimed yesterday that Mr Kiunjuri received Sh20 million ($200,000) from local civil society leaders as a bribe to induce him into operationalising a new law regulating the NGO sector that had faced resistance from top Jubilee leaders since the current government came to power in 2013.
Two months ago, the minister directed the attorney general to expedite the operationalisation of the Public Benefits Organisations Act, the PBO Act, that was enacted in the sunset days of the grand coalition government but which Jubilee had dithered to implement, deeming it too generous for an inimical sector that had studiously opposed the rise of current leaders due to allegations that they masterminded the post-election violence of 2007/8.
The Act was the product of delicate negotiations between the government and NGOs. It reviewed ad hoc laws that had regulated the sector for at least twenty years that civil society had been consolidating and flourishing, and it provides for greater independence for the sector while making it an integral part of the political and governance process of the country.
Mr Kiunjuri's predecessor, Anne Waiguru, fought ferociously to repeal the Act as a prelude to more restrictive policies, but NGOs, buoyed by the support of international actors and the political opposition, successfully pushed back against the amendments. In retaliation, Ms Waiguru froze plans to operationalise the law, putting the sector in limbo while the government fell back to the archaic provisions in the statute books that had been rendered redundant by the new constitution passed in 2010.
With local NGOs firmly in support of the crimes against humanity charges that President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto faced at the International Criminal Court, Ms Waiguru's repression resonated widely within government until her resignation in 2015 after a series of corruption scandals. In an effort to repair relations following the termination of ICC cases against the top leaders, Mr Kiunjuri has engaged NGOs in a number of confidence-building measures, holding talks with key leaders in the last two months, an outreach that culminated in his instruction for the AG to commence the Act.
Nevertheless, the move had its critics at high echelons of government even if Mr Kiunjuri had the gumption to turn a new leaf in the government's relations with NGOs. Within days of his letter to the AG, the High Court had issued orders staying operationalisation of the Act. For NGOs, it was a matter of wait-and-see until yesterday when an affidavit to the anti-corruption commission surfaced, alleging that Mr Kiunjuri received Sh20 million from NGO leaders to operationalise the Act.
Mr Cheboi, who is involved in a leadership wrangle at the non-state NGO Council and is apparently known to the minister, provided what seemed to be the authenticity the affidavit required. Citizen TV reported his claims, but the rest of the media was cautious, smelling a smear campaign against the minister whose authors were not quite clear. Indeed, it is hard to believe that reputable NGO leaders would plot to bribe Mr Kiunjuri with Sh20 million, or that Mr Kiunjuri, notwithstanding the corruption that permeates top levels of government, would be naive enough to take the money from some of the government's fiercest critics.
"The allegations were based on the premise that I was induced to operationalise the PBO Act. I would like to bring to the attention of the public that the said Mr Cheboi was the first to congratulate me on commencement of the PBO Act," Mr Kiunjuri said in a stern statement that made a direct connection between the claims and the NGO Coordination Board, whose leader Mr Fazul is reputed as one of the sector's main repressors.
Conceding that the government had "some issues" with NGO sector, Mr Kiunjuri said: "The NGO Coordination Board has faced numerous challenges in the execution of its mandate. In view of the above circumstances, I have today dissolved the board of the NGO Coordination Board." He also addressed for the first time allegations that the Board's director had fake academic credentials. The minister directed that Mr Fazul, who "did not meet the requisite qualifications at the time of his interview and appointment," should "proceed on leave immediately as the matter is investigated."
It was incredulous for the minister to pretend that he had only recently been made aware of the allegations on Mr Fazul's academic forgery, which had been confirmed months back by the university the director attended. Just last week, civil society leaders petitioned the anti-corruption commission to make their year-long investigation on the matter public, questioning why an open-and-shut case was taking the authorities years to determine.
A source at the devolution ministry told the Kenya Free Press that Mr Fazul, who enjoys access to State House, was the main impediment on the minister's decision to implement the Act. While Mr Kiunjuri had persuaded other officials that there was "nothing to fear" in the PBO Act, "a small clique of officials including Mr Fazul had built their reputation with the leaders on how hard they were fighting NGOs." Mr Fazul's influence, the source said, arose from the fact that his office is responsible for policy-making on NGOs and his access to the Jubilee power centres.
Mr Kiunjuri, the source said, had determined before writing to the AG that the president would not intervene in his decision, unless there was an overriding consideration that he said hadn't arisen, only for the minister to be struck with allegations that he had been bribed for the decisions he took. Investigations into the affidavit is ongoing, but top devolution ministry officials suspect Mr Fazul's hand in a plot to smear the minister. The Kenya Free Press could not reach Mr Fazul the whole afternoon to get his feedback on the allegations.
Mr Fazul's suspension was welcomed by civil society actors who saw him as a stumbling block in the government's relations with the sector, with activist Al Amin Kimathi saying it was "a great move". The minister said that Mr Ali Mohamed Yusuf, the deputy director for human resource management and development at the board, will act as executive director until that time when the issues shall have been resolved.